Price Is Right
By RANDY COHEN
occasionally traffic in Persian carpets. A fellow came over about one
I'd advertised for $130. He offered $160 -- evidently he remembered the
$175 price of another carpet and was trying to bargain. I accepted, and
we each felt we got a great deal. My housemate, Dave, says, ''No harm,
no foul.'' My wife thinks I ripped the guy off. Counsel? J. C.,
I'm with Dave. Your customer voluntarily offered
$160; you're free to accept. Your ad did not promise to sell the carpet
for $130, only to honor that price for anyone who saw the ad and
invoked it. (Hence some offers include the words ''on presentation of
this ad.'') There's nothing dishonorable about various prices for the
same thing when there's no hint of bait and switch or other conniving.
Hotels, airlines and car-rental firms, for example, sometimes quote one
rate to those who book online, another for those who phone; a house
listed for sale at one price is often bid up to another.
fact, if a spendthrift potentate, say, the ghost of Louis XV, wandered
in and offered you a gazillion for the rug, you could accept that too.
(Assuming you didn't exploit the ghost's ignorance of the franc-dollar
exchange rate or of the nonexistence of the spirit world.)
Years ago I asked a favorite professor for a graduate-school
recommendation. I planned to apply to two schools, so he sent two
sealed envelopes with recommendations enclosed. I was accepted by one
school before I applied to the other. I still have the second envelope,
unopened to this day. My professor died a short while ago. May I open
it? N.B., Vermont
Your professor has passed beyond the realm where any sublunary behavior
can impair his ability to write a dispassionate reference letter. And
so, unless you vowed not to, you may open the envelope. In doing this,
you'd conform to the common practice of unsealing sensitive records
after the deaths of those who might be discomfited by them. And while
some living professors may find it inhibiting to know that their
recommendations may be read after they've departed this vale of tears
and blue-book exams, this risk seems slight (and can be easily
curtailed by their including a no-read-ever provision when asked for
such notes). The greater danger is that you may not like what you read.
Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036, and include a daytime phone number.